Universal health insurance in KPK manifests PM Imran Khan’s priorities

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Imran Khan had once said that the Prime Minister of a country can be considered its father of the nation. The emerging humanitarian angle in priorities of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government now reminds me of Khan’s earlier statement.

According to the government sources in KP, more than 40 million, almost the whole population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will soon be gifted with the universal health insurance. This means that each family receiving this insurance will be able to afford a medical treatment that amounts to Rs. 1 million from any private or government hospital via the “Sehat Insaf Card” (Health Justice Program).

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Read more: Sehat Insaf Cards: Pakistan finally owning its Transgender community!

However, realizing the threat of corruption and misuse health cards are being linked with NADRA database – so that one person cannot give his card to another for any purpose.

Expansion of Health Coverage to all KP

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Originally the project was conceived to provide a medical treatment worth 25,000 rupees and initially it was only available in four districts. Realizing these weaknesses, the project has been expanded and now the facility encompasses all the districts across KP – with a greater focus on those where scores were low under the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP).

Advanced complex treatment will be afforded up to Rs. 400,000 rupees which will include heart surgery, prostheses, kidney treatment, breast cancer screening etc

According to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Finance and Health Minister, Taimur Jhagra, a feeling of discontent was growing among those who were not receiving the facility. He stated, “When we got to hear the views of those whose lives were saved, we were encouraged to extend the program to the entire province”. He also added that in the past five years, the government had increased its scope to. Rs. 1 million per person per annum for the entire province.

Rs. 170 billion for Trains; why not Rs. 18 billion for people?

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When I asked Mr. Jhagra, KP Health Minister, in an interview about the dynamics of this program and how was it possible to provide each family with Rs. 1 million worth of medical treatment, he replied, “When we can spend Rs. 170 billion on trains, why can’t we spend Rs. 18 billion on all the people in a year?”

Mr. Jhagra then explained that the purpose of giving everyone an opportunity to avail this package was that even among middle class families who may have salaries above Rs. 1 lakh a month, it is still often not possible to find resources to pay treatment for sudden health shocks like cancer. Even these families end up selling their land. The financial difficulties then stockpile on these unfortunate families and it is the job of a caring government to protect them from falling into a cycle of misery.

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Giving universal health insurance means that intensive care patients will get all the facilities that cost more. Basic treatment which will be up to Rs. 200,000 including emergency admission, maternity care, fractures, accidental injuries and general surgery. Advanced complex treatment will be afforded up to Rs. 400,000 rupees which will include heart surgery, prostheses, kidney treatment, breast cancer screening etc. Additional treatment is also provided up to Rs. 400,000 which will further indemnify and cover cancer treatment, kidney and liver transplant, emergency and intensive care wards etc.

Many people, however, are still criticizing the initiative as unnecessary and the reason for this may be that no fatal disease has ever entered their house, God forbid. Two of my dearest loved ones however, passed away as the cruel hands of cancer claimed their lives.

Health Shocks can devastate middle income families too!

I also personally know a few people devasted by sudden health shocks – one of them was running a great business. Their business in Peshawar was thriving but when their mother was diagnosed with cancer, they had to sell all of their shops one by one to afford her treatment and as time passed by, they were ensnared by debt. Medical treatment of such diseases is so expensive and difficult that the patient dies later, and the family dies first.

Compared that to affluent Canada where total population is 40 million, and you realize that our country is left in a very precarious situation

When we say that the state is like the mother, it is necessary to know that the people need two basic things from this state. One is the high standard of medical treatment and the other is quality education. The governments that came before, always instilled two things in our minds which we haven’t been able to escape from – one is that we are a very poor country and the other is that not much can happen in Pakistan.

Just for the sole purpose of winning elections, political parties in the past spent billions on projects that seemed great on paper but still neglected those who did not have the money to pay for treatment and let them turn their toes up as they passed away. Mothers keep giving birth at the doors of hospitals.

There are many patients who come from remote areas, they reach the hospital on donkey carts and die on arrival only for their families to hear the doctor’s words that if they had arrived ten minutes earlier, the patient’s life would have been saved. Our children are suffering from malnutrition because the public has not been given the knowledge and awareness that the health of the mother is linked to the health of the child.

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If we focus our attention towards Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the population of this economically distressed province according to a census done in 2017 was about 35 million, which by today’s standards will certainly be around 40 million. Compared that to affluent Canada where the total population is 40 million, and you realize that our country is left in a very precarious situation.

Our rulers, however, have never taken any effective steps to solve the population problem. This rapid population growth within Pakistan is certainly a bane for us due to which the health, education and our justice system have been severely crippled.

Initiating such comprehensive health coverage in a poor country like Pakistan is not a mean achievement. Even the super-rich government of the United States is not providing a similar coverage to the entire population. Only Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, and a handful of other welfare states have such government support for medical treatment.

Read more: Corona Epidemic: Imran Khan fighting his biggest challenge?

Today, province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has proudly joined the list of these few welfare states – but we cannot rest in peace until we extend such coverage to the whole country.

The author is a TV presenter & producer with Hum News. She is an International Alumni Ambassador for Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, where she studied Multimedia Journalism. Earlier, she graduated with business and marketing at Air University, Islamabad. Shiffa could be followed on twitter @Shiffa_ZY and on Facebook @ShiffaYousafzai. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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